Empowered

Jimmy

This is Jimmy. I met him when I visited the BidiBidi Refugee Settlement in Yumbe District, northern part of Uganda. Jimmy is a refugee from South Sudan. He came to Uganda with his mother, wife and children to escape the civil war. Jimmy used to work for the government in South Sudan when civil war broke out and he became a target for opposition forces.

By September 2017, the refugee population in Uganda had reached over 1.35 million people. 82% are women and children.

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I don’t think a lot of people know much about Uganda, or can even point out the East African country on a map. To be honest, even I didn’t know much before working here. When we think of refugee-hosting countries, most of us probably think of high-income, western nations. Not a developing country like Uganda.

Uganda is the largest refugee hosting country in Africa and one of the largest asylums in the world. Data from UNHCR shows that most of the 3.2 million who were driven from their homes in the first half of 2016 found shelter in low- or middle-income countries. Uganda is one of those countries.

Uganda’s progressive refugee response plan has taken the approach that allows relief and asylum to (for those coming primarily from Burundi, DRC and South Sudan), while also planning for long-term stay. If refugees want to go home, they are supported. If they want to stay in Uganda, that’s okay too. Most want to go home, and will only stay if there is no other option. Right now, for many, the latter is the case. The Ugandan government has also taken the approach to involve refugees in the planning and management of the settlement. This means that people like Jimmy work with NGOs like CRS, to ensure that all people receive the services they need when it comes to food, water, shelter, protection and health.

Jimmy is a translator for CRS and helps us to conduct community meetings and coordinate activities with community hygiene promoters (South Sudanese refugees trained by CRS) and workers (comprised of both Ugandan and South Sudanese folks) helping to construct shelters.

Talking to Jimmy, he told me that at first it was really tough for him. He felt defeated. Meeting him now, with a big smile on his face, I could never tell. Jimmy is a natural leader. Watching him play with his children, I was touched to see him in high spirits. Actually, a lot of people were in high spirits. I shared my thoughts with Jimmy, that it was an inspiration to see people who had gone through so much be so positive, strong, working hard. He let out a sigh and told me that it had been a journey. It wasn’t like this at first, he didn’t know if he and his family would survive. Uganda has given him hope, has raised his spirits. He went back to South Sudan recently, thinking that he would prepare for his family’s return back. After seeing the conditions, he believes he will stay a while longer. The work he is doing here, to keep the community together, safe and healthy, has helped him a lot he says. He likes being part of the process, it is empowering to know that his voice, concerns, are heard and taken seriously.

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These guys are teachers, most of them South Sudanese. CRS is constructing primary schools in the settlement as there is already limited space in Uganda’s schools. 

The Ugandan people have been very kind. As a way to prevent tension between communities, it is mandated by the government that 50% of all aid go to supporting the refugee settlements and 30% to the host community (the Ugandan people). This is a major factor for the peaceful integration of refugees in Uganda.

It was a privilege for me to meet Jimmy and experience the kindness of the Ugandan people.

I am currently working with the CRS/Uganda Emergency team to develop a strategy to position ourselves for future funding, so that we can continue to provide quality services to South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan host communities. CRS is doing some really good work in agriculture & livelihoods, shelter and sanitation & hygiene. I hope to share some more details on that in the near future.

Thanks for reading!

 

Improved and Transparent Water Services for Rural Tanzanians

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I was posted in Tanzania for about 10 months. CRS, the NGO I work for, had a project that was in its final stages called the Revolutionizing Remittance Recovery in Water project, or R3W. It was funded by UKAID Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF). I had the privilege of visiting the project site in Karatu, Arusha, in the northern part of country to document results and prepare some final reports for the donor. We were also in the process of developing a business model to attract private sector investors for scale-up.

What was exciting about R3W was that it was the first project of its type in Tanzania, as is typical of many HDIF projects. In partnership with the Diocese of Mbulu Development Department and Grundfos LIFELINK A/S, CRS changed the game of rural water supply with R3W, by introducing an innovative technology to improve revenue collection for community-owned water supply organizations (COWSOs).

Before R3W, all water points looked something like this:

post water point

People would fill up their buckets and then pay the water vendor hired by the COWSO. There was no formal method of record keeping, so sometimes vendors would hike up the price to pocket some extra cash. For communities paying on a monthly basis, sometimes the water user’s records would not match with the vendor’s, resulting in arguments and creating a situation that was difficult for the COWSO to manage.  Any water spilled meant water that was unpaid for. For operation and maintenance, COWSOs rely on revenues collected, so losses in revenue meant that when there was a technical issue, they sometimes didn’t have the money to pay for it, leaving customers without service, sometimes for as long as weeks. Additionally, since the water source was from a river, the supply would significantly decrease during the drier parts of the year. COWSOs would ration the supply, allowing collection for just a few hours, from morning to midday. This created long waiting lines, tension among community members in a struggle to get the water, and in general, water shortage. Women, primarily responsible for fetching water, suffered most.

R3W was designed for better management through the introduction of the AQtap, which is designed by a water technology company, Grundfos.

The AQtap is a dispenser that supplies water using a prepaid smartcard (like an ATM machine) and records all transactions using an online Water Management System (WMS). It also tracks any malfunctions in the system and send alerts directly to the COWSO’s WMS Administrator via SMS. There are several benefits to this system, some of which include a) there is a set price that cannot be altered by using a card, b) users can track their spending, c) COWSOs can track how much water is collected and the amount owed d) improved revenue collection, meaning that there was money for the COWSO to use for repairs, e) instant notifications of any malfunctions improved service delivery. In short, it was a much more efficient and transparent system.

To ensure there was a reliable supply of water, CRS used private funds to construct a borehole to ensure that water would be available throughout the year, including during the dry season.

One beneficiary said, “There is a huge difference from the postpaid system used before R3W. Before, I had access to water only until 10am, and there would be fights among community members because of the long queues. Now, water is available all day and there is no jam. We have come up with a rotation system whereby each person can only fill up six buckets at a time. There are less fights because we are no longer concerned that the supply will cut off or that vendors are pocketing our money”

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Getting people to buy into the technology was not easy though. That’s where our local partner, the Diocese of Mbulu Development Department came in. They have a great relationship and respect within the community and were able to help CRS sell the idea. People told me that at first they thought it was weird to use a card to collect water, that it was impossible, a sort of magic. With training and sensitization, it changed people’s perspective. It was now cool to be a cardholder and cool to be part of this new, innovative approach. Other communities who didn’t have the system are now demanding it.

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A lot of hard work went into this project from all partners involved. My colleague and R3W Project Manager Ephraim Tonya, had long discussions with me about the many challenges and lessons learnt. He is especially happy that it has helped the women in the community.

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With a loan from banks or the government, the COWSOs that were trained in R3W now have the capacity to install and operate more AQtaps on their own, and can pay back the loan within 5 years. CRS hopes to provide support to more COWSOs in rural areas where the AQtap can be a durable solution to better water management.

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Ephraim (far right) and I with COWSO members. Yes, I am tiny. 

secondary water vendor

This man uses his prepaid card to fill up buckets of water and then sells the water to neighbors at more than double the price. Same with the guy below. 

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AQtap

Disclaimer: This blog and its contents is the personal view of the owner and is not an official publication of CRS.